Kobe Bryant resorted to some old bad habits in last night’s Los Angeles Lakers’ loss to the Indiana Pacers. On the surface, it appears that Kobe has fully recovered from offseason knee surgery. But, there is a deeper issue now developing in LA.
Scoring 41 points last night was Kobe’s biggest outburst of the season but does this bode well for the Lakers and their title defense? Not at all.
Kobe must maintain a consistent team-first mentality for the Lakers to thrive. That’s been proven over and over again since the arrival of center Pau Gasol. Head coach Phil Jackson’s vaunted triangle offense is predicated on a team-first mindset.
But, let's keep some perspective. There are reasons why Kobe has been forced to score. Yes, forced to score, and we’ll cover those on the upcoming slides.
So, what are the key things that are gained when Kobe adopts a team-first mentality?
As I mentioned, the triangle’s foundation is ball movement. When the Lakers stick to Phil Jackson’s offense and move the ball through their various sets, opposing teams are left scrambling.
The triangle is designed for passing and built to create open shots.
When Kobe abandons the triangle in favor of one on one, or even pick and roll with Pau Gasol, it makes the Laker offense predictable. This defeats all of Phil Jackson’s desires and reduces the Lakers' offensive threats.
There is a reason the Lakers are at the top of the offensive stat sheet in the league so far this season. They got there through their offense and ball movement.
And it is no wonder the Lakers' bench has been on a scoring tear. They always come in and run the triangle. They also run the other team, speed up the game, and get easy shots.
This is the last big point of ball movement. When Kobe goes one on one, he makes his life harder than it needs to be. He's far more efficient when he adopts the team-first approach.
You’ve heard trust your teammates? Well, Kobe needs to trust the triangle.
When the Lakers run their triangle offense to perfection, it usually involves getting the ball inside to center Pau Gasol early in the shot clock. This opens up all the options in their sets and usually results in a score.
Getting Pau touches often and early is key to the Lakers' success. It has been the formula so far this year. Pau had been putting up huge numbers and is off to the best start of his career. Many fans were even questioning if he wasn’t now the best player on the Lakers.
He isn’t. Unfortunately, the media forgets this and starts writing all kinds of stuff about how Kobe has lost a step. He hasn’t. Don’t underestimate him. Ever. I sure don’t.
But all the talk of Pau being the Lakers' number one guy could be a factor in this me-first outburst by Kobe. He does like to remind people who he is and what he is capable of.
The real thing that stops when Kobe takes over and gets out of the triangle is that Pau gets less touches. And nothing good comes of that.
Keep Other Players Involved
When Kobe resorts to his 81 point scoring mentality and starts shooting like he has done recently, one of the other key things that happens to the Lakers is that all the other players start standing around.
They lose rhythm and momentum, which results in missed shots.
It’s like a vicious cycle, too. The less involved Kobe’s teammates are, the more they miss and the less Kobe trusts them on the next shot if he was to pass. Round and round it goes and the Lakers suffer.
By running the offense, creating ball movement, and open shots, Kobe’s teammates are in the flow of the game. They make shots. That puts even more pressure on the opposing team and that results in Kobe getting even easier shots.
It’s all win win. Kobe knows this.
More Pressure on Opposing Team’s Defense
While it may seem counter-intuitive to Kobe, he is actually a more deadly player when he passes first and shoots later. That’s because he demands double teams. When he becomes a willing passer, the pressure put on opposing defenses is massive.
Kobe opens the entire game up for his teammates. Most importantly, he keeps the other team off balance. They don’t know if he will shoot, post-up, drive, or kick to a teammate.
With Pau Gasol the other main Laker scoring threat, a pass first Kobe gives the opposing team a double dose of pain. They don’t know who to cover or double team. That makes the Lakers unbeatable.
When To Take Over
What appears to be Kobe’s abandonment of the team-first mentality is really a result of some of the other Lakers simply being in shooting slumps.
Because of that, Kobe has been forced, yes forced, to take over games earlier. That isn’t good for him or the Lakers.
Like Michael Jordan before him in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, Kobe knows to involve teammates early, keep them active the first three plus quarters, then, if necessary, put the team on his broad shoulders to close out the game.
That's a formula that always works. Kobe knows this. A lot of the blame right now might be directed at Kobe and abandoning the triangle but really, where are his teammates?
They need to step up just as much as everyone is asking for Kobe to pass first.
But, let’s not read, or write, too much into all of this. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Lakers, and definitely not Kobe. He knows what is at stake and he’ll never abandon his teammates or game plan. This is a minor blip on the Lakers season. They are still the team to beat this year.
Check out the new book, The Kobe Code: Eight Principles For Success- An Insider's Look into Kobe Bryant's Warrior Life & the Code He Lives By, at www.PatMixon.com.